Gospel music enthusiasts who want to “bring the choir back,” though truthfully the choir really hasn’t gone anywhere, will be amazed by Amazed, a 70-minute CD from Isaac Cates & Ordained.
The album brims with contemporary gospel and some traditional flourishes, as well as praise and worship music tinged with semi-classical influences and all delivered with great gumption by the choir and a troupe of skilled musicians, Cates foremost among them.
From Kansas City, Kansas, Cates & Ordained secure for the project a battery of respected lead vocalists. For example, Tobbi and Tommi White of the sister duo Tobbi & Tommi lend their individual talents here. Tommi shouts and squalls through the traditional-flavored “Step Back and Watch Him Work.” Set in the classic “rocking chair” time signature of 12/8, the song sounds for all the world like a long-lost Christian Tabernacle Concert Choir piece. Tobbi’s estimable efforts on “Real Love” is preceded by a poem from Ezekiel Azonwu that sets the stage for this song about the mutual love between Christian and Savior.
“Strong and Mighty” takes its text from Psalm 24 (“Lift up your heads, O ye gates”), and the thunderous senior choir-style singing and musicianship are suitable to the message. Molly Hammer renders the optimistic mid-tempo “In Due Season” (Galatians 6:9) like a veteran jazz singer, she and the band lightly swinging the melody. On “Nothing Just Happens,” a sassy-voiced Mamie Moore explains that there are no coincidences—everything is preordained. The versatile Callie Day is the sole feature who gets two lead slots, the dramatic “Almighty” and “Hear My Prayer,” the latter being one of two superb bonus tracks.
M. Trey McLaughlin and Geoffrey Golden Jr. duet on a worship ballad called “My God” that seems to levitate above the ensemble. Melonie Daniels’ “You Are” is the most vocally dramatic piece on the album. It’s a praise song in a minor key and delivered like a recitative. If there was something called gospel opera, it might sound a little like “You Are.”
More than half of the fourteen tracks were recorded live, the others in the studio, with most selections coming from Cates’ pen. The album notes include track information on songwriters and musicians but unfortunately they don’t identify which info goes with which track (thankfully, they are listed in the same order as the playlist). Also, the powerful-voiced Megan Smith is not noted on the back of the album as a featured soloist for the bouncy “I Believe,” nor are Odell Talley and Tamara Jordan on the sanctified “Praise Comin’ On.” Of course, none of these issues affect the music quality.
Whether the songs are rhythmic or balladic, dramatic or exciting, Isaac Cates & Ordained deliver thoughtful arrangements, polished harmonies, and expressive lead vocals. The group’s musicality reflects Cates’ church and conservatory training, and his love for all styles of gospel. In the end, the ensemble reminds one of Shekinah Glory Ministry, but with a more varied music palette.